Perfecting My Morning

As the name of this site suggests, I do not consider myself the sharpest tool in the shed e.g. there were three words missing from this sentence when I originally read it back, but in my head and as I typed it, it sounded perfect!

But there’s a lot to be said for being resourceful in the face of a lack of resources (just ask MacGuyver or The A Team). In fact, an awareness of our limited time, money, energy or attention is what drives us to get creative or at least seek out others’ ideas, to make the most of the little we do have. Necessity is the mother of invention, after all.

The best non-fiction books, Audible audiobooks, podcasts and YouTube videos I read/listen to/watch make me change my way of looking at world, or behave differently. I want to learn better ways to use my resources – and even now, with so much of it on my hands, I appreciate how limited time is. So how should I spend it?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Twenty-four hours, minus a third for sleep tax (I don’t resent paying this tax, as it ultimately serves me – take note Branson and Bezos!). So sixteen hours to invest – morning, afternoon, evening.

Below is a look at my current morning routine and the inspiration behind the various habits I am trying (does anyone else hear Yoda when they use that verb? Just me? OK) to instill – with varying degrees of success.

Morning Routine

04:30 – Wake up / WHM Stretching

I’ve spoken in previous posts about WHM (Wim Hof Method) and my struggles with stretching, but why wake up so early? Jocko Willink‘s book Extreme Ownership convinced me that getting up before most people means I can get things done without interruption and with the minimum amount of stress. The alternative of oversleeping, missing out on exercise, arriving late, not being prepared and spending the rest of the day playing catch-up (the type of day that was all too common in my youth) just fills me with dread. It’s not easy leaving the comfort of my bed, but a few things that have helped are:

Three alarms – first, my vibrating wrist watch gently pulls me from my slumber, one minute before what will be a LOUD mobile phone alarm at the other side of the room. To save me from the wrath of my wife, I leap out of bed (or groan and roll) and dart (shuffle) over to the phone before that alarm can sound. Jocko recommends three alarms, but in all honesty I only have two – which is working fine, so why fix it?

Eating deadline – As recommended by Mark Sisson in The New Primal Blueprint, you should eat your last meal a couple of hours (or more) before bed so I stop eating by 18:00. I can’t eat too close to bed time. I just feel too uncomfortable and wake up in the morning with a horrible taste.

Bedtime routine – or sleep hygiene, as it’s often called includes going to bed and getting up at a regular time, limiting food, drink and screen usage for two hours before bed and keeping your bedroom at an optimum temperature (cooler is better). On a good night, I will turn off the screens at 19:00, stretch and maybe shower, and then read a paperback before going to sleep at 21:00. I’ll only journal if my head is busy, or I need to write down an idea or memory before I forget it. Some great tips on becoming a super sleeper are in Dr Richard Wiseman‘s book Night School – well worth a listen.

05:00 – WHM Breathing (4 rounds)

I use the Wim Hof Method app for this, specifically the Breathing Bubble. I’m generally able to hold my breath for over three minutes now and one time I even managed four minutes. That isn’t really the goal, but it is an indication of the method working, and honestly I just love “getting high on my own supply”. It really is a trippy feeling – well worth experiencing.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

05:30 – Exercise

Cardio (running or cycling) for thirty to sixty minutes, OR bodyweight strength exercises (air squats, push ups, pull ups, planks). For the particulars on these, refer to the book The New Primal Blueprint mentioned earlier. I’m considering doing a vlog on this – comment if you would watch that!

06:30 – Warm and Cold Shower

I can’t go straight into a cold shower, and I am putting off doing my first ice plunge, but I’ve gone from thirty seconds to two minutes. I have to have a four or five minute hot shower first, to get clean and psyche myself up, but then I turn the tap. Have you ever eaten or drunk something so cold that it’s given you brain freeze? Next time it happens, try putting your tongue on the roof of your mouth – it works I promise! But not when the cold is coming from the shower head above you. The only way I can handle it, is to move around and focus the water on my back, chest and shoulders when my head-freeze gets too intense to bear!

07:00 – Ready to Write

Black coffee and pint of water (sometimes with lemon) positioned to my right, laptop open in front of me, I sit down to face the blank page (Word document, you know what I mean).

Until my first coffee break at 11:00, I will now struggle to produce WORDS. Which will only come if I can answer my THOUGHTS/QUESTIONS.

  • What am I going to write about?
  • How can I make it more entertaining/enlightening?
  • Who is my ideal reader?
  • How would he/she react to that part?

I’m going to do some research today on some better questions to ask before/while writing. That could result in me having some better questions, and therefore some better writing coming out of the answers…or, it could result in 4 hours of googling and youtubing and me asking the same questions all over again tomorrow. That, would be a wasted day – and enough days spent like that, would be a wasted life.

Thank You

Thank you once again for reading, subscribing, liking and commenting! It’s much appreciated it!

This blog post is number 8 out of 10 – for the “10 blog posts in 10 days” challenge – just two more and I have met the challenge! Then it’s back to a weekly blog post, and a competition with a prize draw for subscribers (more details to follow).

The Wedge – Audiobook Review

So this morning, after acknowledging that my downward dog needs a lot of work (or sending to the farm) I tried to access the following week of the Wim Hof Fundamentals course (stress management). It was locked, meaning that I’ll be learning patience as a bonus lesson!

After some dire attempts to get more bendy and once my other exercises were done, I did a thirty minute Zwift cycle before my ninety second cold shower. During the cycle, I listened once again to this excellent book – I would highly recommend it, so here’s my review.

Summary from Scott Carney‘s website

Thrive or die: That’s the rule of evolution. Despite this brutal logic, some species have learned to survive in even the most hostile conditions. Others couldn’t—and perished. While incremental genetic adaptations hone the physiology of nearly every creature on this planet, there’s another evolutionary force that is just as important: the power of choice. In this explosive investigation into the limits of endurance, journalist Scott Carney discovers how humans can wedge control over automatic physiological responses into the breaking point between stress and biology. We can reclaim our evolutionary destiny.

Review

Journalist Scott Carney, who also wrote the New York Times bestseller, What Doesn’t Kill Us, seems to be a kindred spirit (except he doesn’t like running? What’s THAT all about?!). His sceptical approach and original goal of debunking Dutch guru Wim Hof, peaked my interest right from the start. His first book was the warts and all account of encountering Wim and his method, that humanised the Ice Man and lowered my reluctance to becoming a practitioner.

While I’m still at the beginning of my Wim Hof journey, Carney writes that it, “gave him superhuman levels of endurance and quieted a persistent autoimmune illness.”

The Wedge is about the underlying technique that can enable a person to have an edge in almost any situation.

In his latest book, Carney travels the globe in search of those who are also exploring the potential of the human mind and body. In doing so he:

  • visits a cutting-edge neuroscience laboratory at Stanford to overcome fear/anxiety
  • achieves flow states by tossing kettlebells
  • explores the benefits of heat from saunas
  • reaches transcendence through breathing routines
  • searches his mind in sensory deprivation tanks
  • hacks his mind with MDMA
  • tries ayahuasca

I really enjoyed this book, and while I’ve already start the Wim Hof Method, saunas and flotation tanks, I still have a long way to go to earn my psychonaut black belt.

“Under certain circumstances, one is actually better informed concerning the real world, if one has taken a drug than if one has not.” – Terence McKenna

I would rather do this without ingesting psychoactive substances, so I’ll experiment with some of the other methods first…but who knows…in future…maybe? You only live once, and Carney really does seem to making the most of his time here. I appreciate him sharing his experiences and experiments – it gives me ideas and encouragement to continue my own!

As this was an audiobook, I need to comment on the narrator, Scott Carney! Yes, I always appreciate the author narrating their own work – when they’re good that is – and Carney is as skilled a narrator as he is a writer.

Thank You

This is blog post number 7 out of 10, and I am really encouraged by the views I’m getting. Hopefully these will translate into some more subscribers, likes, comments, etc.

On the home front – lockdown is going well (F****** Covid-19), Wim Hoffing is going well (except the stretching – I suck – so inflexible) and writing is…well you’re reading this, but don’t expect my novel any time soon!

Procrastination cure? Not yet. Allen Carr’s Easyway need to get onto this!

Take care – be safe and well – peace.

The Wim Hof Method

“Breathe M***** F*****S!”

– Wim Hof

I hate the cold. But I love winter holidays.

This seeming paradox is easily explained by the fact that on any ski holiday I’ve been on, I’ve been wrapped up in a snow suit most of the time. If you’re really lucky, you also get to sit in thermal pools or saunas, and experience all of that beautiful scenery without any discomfort (skiing, snowboarding and apres ski hangovers aside).

So in December 2018, when after a hard treadmill session at the gym I had to have a cold shower due to a broken boiler – I was fuming. I literally swore through gritted teeth for the entire duration and I didn’t even feel clean at the end.

But whilst I was horrified at the effect of the experience on my manhood, once I got out, I felt amazing. I was glowing. So alert, so energised. So I went away and googled if there were any benefits to cold showers – other than the mythical damping of the teenage libido.

Photo by Mohan Reddy Atalu on Pexels.com

Enter Ice Man

My web search inevitably led me to Wim Hof, also know and The Ice Man, the crazy Dutch record-breaker and local celebrity. The archetypal new-age, health guru image would have repelled me were it not for his stunts and the mounting scientific evidence for his method. I needed to learn more, so over the next year or so I watched various YouTube interviews with Wim and read the following two books:

Both of these books give an insight into Wim’s tragic backstory, what’s driving him and the science behind his method – they are well worth a read! They’ll tell you what you need to know about the three pillars of the method: breathing, commitment and cold exposure. If you have any health ailments, you should look into Wim and his method – you’re probably covered! It really does seem to be a cure-all.

The Wim Hof Method Benefits

  • Stress reduction – I’m not stressed right now, but once this lockdown is over and I have to go back out into the real world, this could definitely come in handy.
  • Faster recovery from physical exertion – marathon running, triathlons, hangovers…it’s supposedly meant to make you heal like Wolverine! Count me in.
  • Better sleep – as a lifelong insomniac (maintenance, sometimes onset), this would probably be a better option than the two-glasses-of-red-wine method? Long-term I mean.
  • Improved sports performance – back to marathons and triathlons again. Could this give me that edge I need to break the three hour barrier? As an aside, the London Marathon should have been going ahead today – I feel terrible for those runners. I ran London last year (3 hr 24 mins), raising over £2000 for charity and it was an unforgettable experience. I hope they all get to experience something similar soon or run it next year!
  • Enhanced creativity – an obvious requirement for any blogger or novelist. But I’m sure creativity and resourcefulness go hand in hand, so even in everyday life, parenting, etc.
  • More focus and mental clarity – a potential cure for my procrastination?
Photo by Elly Fairytale on Pexels.com

Just like with Chi Running, I didn’t feel completely confident following the method from a book so I purchased the Wim Hof Method app, which I would recommend for the Breathing Bubble alone! Such a great tool!

Even if all of the benefits above aren’t forthcoming, I will probably continue with the breathing and the showers regardless – they just make me feel great. The breathing gets you naturally high, and the cold shower gets you wired – in a good way. So no more need for weed, beer or coffee? Number three will take me some convincing!

The Fundamentals Course

So I took the bait – hook, line and sinker – and purchased the Wim Hof Method Fundamentals Course. To be fair, I have saved money on petrol over the last month and Wim has reduced the price by 50% during the pandemic in an effort to make it affordable to the masses – so I don’t feel swindled!

I started Week One of the course this morning, and apart from the stretching – which was agony, and I sucked at – it was easy-going compared to what I have been doing already with the app. I acknowledge the stretching is important to open up the airways, and I should do some anyway, but running has made me so tight!

Photo by Elly Fairytale on Pexels.com

The breathing was just three rounds, each with a one minute breath hold, which was easy as I have already been holding my breath for up to four minutes by my fourth round, just by using the app.

The homework, was to take a thirty second cold shower, at least five days a week. Again, I’m already up to ninety seconds, most days. But I don’t want to rush through this programme in case I miss something. The slower rate of progress elsewhere will give me more time to work on my flexibility.

So each morning, I will be waking up at 04:30 and doing the yoga stretches – the hardest part for me – before I start the breathing exercises. The cold shower will be after my cardio.

I’ll keep track of any changes I experience throughout the course, and write a proper review at the end, but for now I would say GET THE APP! It is well worth a try, and the science is there – it’s not all WOO-WOO! You don’t have to use it to run marathons or climb mountains bare-chested. It might just make your day to day less painful, more enjoyable and more productive.

THANK YOU

Once again, thanks for reading this – please do subscribe, share, like and comment if you can. This is blog post 6 out of 10, and it is definitely getting easier to sit down at the laptop and tap out some words!

Have a great Sunday! Which for me means FAMILY TIME!!!

Interview Question: How Did You Spend Lockdown ’20?

Unemployment is inevitably going to be an issue for many people once this craziness comes to an end. So maybe I should be blogging about (and selling) my skills as a CV writer rather than my lack of skill as a novelist?

If I wanted to write for money, maybe that would be the way to go. Instead, I’m writing for my own amusement and hopefully your entertainment.

That said, I’ve been thinking a lot about my next interview and anticipating this question: How did you spend lockdown ’20? (hope for the best, plan for the worst – there could be a lockdown ’21).

Photo by Gustavo Fring on Pexels.com

Even if it suddenly becomes taboo and email-to-HR-worthy, to ask this in the work setting, it will definitely come up at parties (muffled by a mask no doubt, if these uncomfortable social gatherings resume at all).

Here are some of my thoughts on what I would like to be able to say:

I practised Wim Hof breathing, cold showers and meditation every day – if you know nothing about Wim Hof, treat yourself to Scott Carney’s “What Doesn’t Kill You” or watch some of his YouTube interviews – he is nuts! But in the best possible way. This crazy Dutchman’s app is well worth checking out but only if you want to, in his words, FEEL STRONG M***** F*****S!

This has totally taken over what used to be my Headspace time. I just prefer the way I think and feel afterwards – and I feel like I’ve got someone else’s clothes on if I don’t start my day with these breathing exercises. I’ve got my breath hold up to over 3 minutes and after 3 rounds of this, it’s a natural high that’s also meant to bring a myriad of health and fitness benefits.

I would happily skip the cold shower – but after the first 30 seconds, the next minute is not so bad. I’m trying to use what little eating I do at the moment as an opportunity for mindfulness practice – even if I’m not logging on to Headspace. Waiting in the queue outside the supermarket is another good opportunity for this, as well as waiting for my son to finish a sentence!

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Pexels.com

I started a blog – started it, did a “10 blog posts in 10 days” challenge and published a blog post each week thereafter, reached 100 followers and 500 read/visits by September 2020. That alone would be a massive achievement, as long as the time invested doesn’t prevent me from doing anything else!

I wrote a novel – using the Snowflake method, tackling it little by little, step by step, getting it edited, having a cover designed, self-publishing. Developing the habits and confidence to ensure that I complete a second novel during NANOWRIMO 2020 in November. This is a gold standard, long overdue bucket list item that I need to tick off! Then I’m off to find a dolphin.

Photo by bongkarn thanyakij on Pexels.com

I home-schooled my children – I really can’t claim to have done this one, any more than Boris can claim to have led us through this pandemic. The similarities are astonishing, in that I also get a daily briefing and step in only when really needed e.g. Year 5 maths – but then need to go off by myself to recover for quite a long time afterwards.

I read, cuddled and played with my children – like the cold shower, I sometimes have to work myself up to this – I find it hard graft. My inner voice is whining, “But those rules make no sense? But that’s boring – pointless – a lot of effort.” Then I remember how much they laughed the last time, and that for them, little and often works just fine. Leaving them wanting more is inevitable, by leaving them lacking is not OK. Whether its making Tik Tok videos, playing Roblox or getting into the arctic paddling pool – it makes their day. It’s also evidence that I’m not the dad who spends all of his time in the loft writing/working – as I’m sure I’ll be labelled come their teens!

For now, I realise how lucky I am – they’re the perfect age for this situation, if there is such a thing – and they want my attention? They won’t always. They’re already old enough to occupy themselves, and soon – lockdowns permitting – they will want to be out with their friends. I don’t want any regrets on this front…family time is precious anyway, lockdown or not, so this bonus round is an AMAZING GIFT!

I made a 2019-2020 family photo album – I have a lot of time on my hands right now, and every year I aim to have the family album ready for September (but this inevitably becomes October or later). This will be our 12th family photo album and although it probably won’t feature a summer holiday, there will be some great memories inside. It’s so easy to let the days just blur into one, and have no distinguishing features – I mean, what’s the point in a weekend now? So I’m aiming to take at least one photo each day to remember the positives.

I worked from home using email and Zoom – I’ll look back fondly on the days of zero commuting and comfortably providing a service to others. So many traffic jams and painful face-to-face interactions avoided. No masks required. Money saved on fuel. So much time saved. Many people are struggling mentally and emotionally right now due to the lockdown, but I’ll be booking my counselling sessions for when I have to go back!

I built a strong aerobic base – using the Maffetone heart-rate training method (180 bpm – age) and my daily outdoor exercise allowance, I am trying to run faster and further whilst keeping my heart-rate lower than 141 bpm (beats per minute). This is supposedly going to make me a “fat-burning beast”! Unfortunately so many factors can affect your MAF progress e.g. temperature, sleep quality/quantity, alcohol consumption. I don’t have much control over the first two, but ours is currently an alcohol-free home (after I twice adjusted my definition of “alcoholic”). My next drink will be once lockdown is over, and it will be anywhere BUT a Wetherspoons pub!

I shed body fat and finally got a six pack – I’m trying intermittent fasting at the moment, which for me entails not eating before midday and stopping eating at 18:00. That means my stomach doesn’t feel full when I wake up and do my Wim Hof breathing, and my morning cardio is in a fasted state. I drink water and black coffee to get me through any hunger pains felt during the first 7.5 hours of the day.

I grew a beard – tri-colour and patchy though it may be, I love rocking this apocalypse-is-here-so-no-point-shaving look. The grey makes me feel wise, even though it’s probably more the result of “worry” than “wisdom”.

I completed several online courses – I don’t want my facial hair to be the only thing that grows throughout this period. I want to add to my CV and improve my chances of employment post-Covid-19! Maybe even change fields completely? This pause will bring a flood of career changers…so I won’t be on my own. It will give me something else to blog about once the novel is published and flying off the (Kindle equivalent of) shelves?

So there are my initial thoughts on the matter and hopefully, my answers if I’m ever asked. How will you answer? Comments please X

Thank you!

Blog post 4 of 10 – done! Tick! Like it, comment, share it…or not…your call. SUBSCRIBE though, pretty please!!!

Step 4 (Snowflake method, not AA)

Step 4: Write a Short Synopsis

I started this blog and the novel whose progress (or lack thereof) it is tracking, on Saturday 18th April, and I have been a bit preoccupied with the blogging part since completing the first 3 steps of the Snowflake Method.

I foolishly accepted a “10 blog posts in 10 days” challenge, forgetting that the blog is not supposed to be my priority. Instead this is just a way of me to gain momentum and trick myself into writing some more of the novel, once my fingers and brain have warmed up. Like going for a walk, in your running gear or “out” in your “out, out” gear.

So today I set “out” to take what I had previously written for Step 2, and expand on it until I had written a one page summary of my novel.

One page. How hard can it be? Copy and paste Step 2 and fluff it up a bit. Or so I thought.

After a delayed start to my writing day (woke up at 04:30 am, did my Wim Hof breathing, watched YouTube videos instead of going out for my morning run (DOH!), queued outside supermarket (thanks Covid-19), did some food shopping, made a green smoothie for the rest of the family, went out for the postponed run, did some push ups, etc, made coffee, had a cold shower) it was 11:00 am before I actually sat down at my desk. Better late than never!

I have to start on the hour, or the half-past. “Oh-five?” No. “Ten Fifty-Nine?” Nope. Not happening. So I started at 11 on the dot and I had just started to get warmed up when, I s**t you not, my phone rang at 11:29. I ignored it (work)…they didn’t ring back. I tried to convince myself that it couldn’t have been important if they didn’t try again. But then I couldn’t focus, because I had a vision of a career-ending email sitting in my inbox, ending with the line, “I did try to call and tell you but…”. So I logged in and checked my work inbox.

Does a tap left running freak you out? Have you ever thought about Niagra Falls? It’s still running. Right now. All that water. Night, day, rain, shine, summer, winter – even when it freezes, it’s still flowing underneath – except that one time. Well, that’s my work inbox. Ping! Ping! Ping! As I’m checking for the “tried to call you” email, I’m greeted by 20 other emails, so I start to read them and then PING! 21! PING! 22!

Thankfully none of them were the career-ender I feared, but several time consuming tasks needed to be completed so that was another 90 minutes gone.

Then it was lunch time. I promised the kids yesterday that I would go in the FREEZING COLD paddling pool with them after my omelette, as by the time I was ready to do so the day before, they were off on their screens. My son decided that the best game to play would be, “who can stay in the FREEZING COLD paddling pool the longest.” Did I mention that it was FREEZING! So half an hour later, we were still in there – numb, blue, shivering and covered in goosebumps – but none of us was planning on giving in.

Just before hypothermia set in, my wife appeared holding a parcel that had just been delivered, automatically winning my son the game as I stepped out of the pool, excited to open it. It turned out to be a cycling jersey I had won by entering a competition to suggest a title for a fellow blogger’s (tri.to.be.iron) latest post! It was a lovely top…and I felt about as worthy of wearing it as I do my wet suit! Triathlon blog posts to come, but for now lets just say I can confidently say (1) I am an OK runner (2) I don’t need inflatable arm bands and (3) I don’t need bicycle stabilisers. But having the right gear definitely gives me the urge to put in a bit more effort!

Anyway, I drifted from writing Step 4 to blogging, then I end up on the NANOWRIMO Facebook group. Do you read the rules/small print when you sign up for these things? Me neither. They should make a video instead. I’d watch that. Maybe. So I’d previously had a comment removed because it was pure, shameless self-promotion. Fair enough. My bad. But then apparently on the next post, when I typed my pseudonym on my phone and it didn’t show up blue (hyperlinked?), it DID once it appeared on the group page’s wall, triggering chaos and panic and the immediate removal of said post. Followed by a stern email from the administrator.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I was then being watched, and every comment I made was closely scrutinised. I was accused of scaring another user – LOL – the comment said “don’t use the b word” as in blog, it wasn’t a d*** pic. I’m sure I was one comment away from admin’s next warning using the word “triggered”, which would have made my day. It was like that seen from Anger Management, where everything Adam Sandler says or does is being misinterpreted as him being the aggressor. I literally looked around to see if there was a camera on me and I was being pranked. So after some genuine engagement with other users (there are some really supportive and genuinely talented writers doing NANOWRIMO – myself and the Twilight crew exempted), and me being no closer towards finishing Step 4, I stepped away.

My wife rolled her eyes at me and asked if I’d been banned yet (add them to the UK Songwriter’s Guild and McDonalds Lakeside). I told her “no” and said that I’d try harder tomorrow.

Facebook – logged off. Instagram – logged off. WordPress – keep it open on the draft of the next blog, but stop checking your bloody STATS! A watched pot…remember?

And with those actions taken, Step 4 finally took shape. Unfortunately – or maybe not – there are some serious issues with my story that need sorting out. But I guess that’s the whole point of doing it in stages like this – to realise that very thing before I waste hours and hours.

Tomorrow I will give Step 4 another go, and put my creative hat on to solve all of those plot issues. With any luck, the day will go a bit smoother. But I doubt it.

THANK YOU

This is the 3rd blog in my “10 blogs in 10 days” challenge, Thank you so much for reading, liking, commenting and sharing. Please subscribe if you haven’t done so already, and I hope to entertain you some more tomorrow.

Lockdown and Snowflakes

WARNING: For those of you looking forward to a diatribe about the lack of mental and emotional resilience among the younger portion of society, spoiler alert: you will be disappointed. If you are so upset that you want to complain, my reply in advance is as follows:

“Man up, you melt!”

How Time Flies

The first four weeks of lockdown were, for the most part, an absolute dream! I’ve always valued time more than money, and so this was my equivalent of a lottery jackpot.

There were two dark clouds, that passed quicker for me than for those being directly rained on, but after that it was more or less back to “walking on sunshine” playing in my head at various points of the day.

As an introverted, agoraphobic, who fears flying and couldn’t tell you the last televised sporting event I’d seen, those lab boys in Wuhan had done me a massive solid. Sorry – I’m sure there were girls working there too. (Calm down! If you’d read Stephen King’s “The Stand”, your mind would’ve gone there as well).

Seriously though, although I don’t detest my day job, when I was told that for the foreseeable, I wouldn’t have to (a) commute an hour each way (minimum) five or six days a week (b) spend at least five hours a week in meetings, or (c) do many of the meaningless admin tasks that take up a large chunk of an otherwise productive day, I won’t lie to you – I cannot say that I was unhappy.

For two more reasons, I was in fact ecstatic.

Firstly, for years I have complained, felt guilty, and threatened to change career because of the lack of family time it affords me (ignoring holidays). But right now, for the time-being, I am here for breakfast, lunch and dinner with my wife and two kids. I get to help my wife with homeschooling them (she does the lioness’s share – but she’ll tell you, I do come in handy with maths and some tricky spellings) and I get to play with them, A LOT. It’s been great!

Secondly, for an even greater number of years I have talked about writing a novel – and yet…nada. Not even a novella. Not even a regular blog post. Replying to work emails makes up the bulk of my daily word count.

Each October, just before the Halloween festivities that are now a firmly established family tradition, I naively sign up for NANOWRIMO (NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth). I order my overpriced (due to shipping from the US) t-shirt or mug, I start with good intentions, but early each November, life just gets in the way. I have even attended a few local NANOWRIMO events. These have been motivating, but they still haven’t enabled me to get anywhere near the required 50.000 words for the month.

So now, with all this time on my hands and permission to stay at home and sit at my desk as much as I like, I might have found a way to slay that dragon!

Obviously whatever I write during lockdown won’t contribute towards November 2020’s word count – but just getting into a routine, and practising the method below will put me in a better position to finally be a NANOWRIMO winner and maybe even a self-published author.

The Snowflake Method

Created by Randy Ingermanson (physicist and award winning author), I’ve known about the Snowflake Method of novel writing for some time. However, as is my way, I’ve half-heartedly attempted to follow the method, only to give up before seeing the 10 steps through to completion.

I can waste time going through the various excuses I’ve used for this, but I’ve wasted so much time already, it feels wrong to do so. Instead, the first post in this series will take you through the initial steps in the process, and how I got on with them.

I won’t start worrying about anything like a “daily word count”, until I reach Step 10: Write and Edit Your Story.

So the start date (or stopwatch?) for this blog and the novel, was set at 09:00 am on Saturday 18th April 2020. This is me, publicly committing to finishing a first draft by 10th September 2020 (144 days away). Gulp! Wish me luck!

Step 1: Write Your Storyline

Simple enough. In 25 words or less, write a single sentence summary of your story. I managed to nail the gist of mine in 13 words, which I will share nearer to the publication date.

Step 2: Write Your Three-Act Structure

Write a one-paragraph summary (Randy suggests 5 sentences) of your story, which details the three acts – or the beginning, the middle and the end. Again, I just needed to skim the surface here and not know all of the details, but have a general idea of my story’s starting point and where I want it to end.

This is where the “planner” vs “pantser” (as in, fly by the seat of pants…make it up as you go along”) debate rears up in my head. On one hand, I want the story to be free, organic, go wherever it’s going to go. But that’s a recipe for wasting hours, maybe even weeks, writing yourself into a corner and having wasted that time. It’s the equivalent of going out for a long run in a new place without google maps or any other way of finding your way home – nightmare!

I really enjoy a lot of Stephen King’s books and he is probably the most famous pantser. It’s just that it sometimes feels like he went where the urge took him, and there were better options available, had he planned it – especially his endings. Not always, but more than once.

So I’ve settled on having my rough plan, but I’m open to adjustments.

Step 3: Define Your Characters

I will not be using roman a clef, where you take people from real life and disguise them in fiction. So my friends and family have nothing to worry about! My characters are generated by me taking a real person I know very little about, letting my imagination fill in the blanks to some personal questions, and then asking what their siblings or friends are like. My characters will be the brother, sister or friend that I’ve created, so they’re even further removed from reality. I cheat, using my experience and background in psychology as a starting point, but I don’t shy away from doing the character-creating work.

The Snowflake Method asks you to write the following:

  • Name
  • Ambition (product goal or end goal)
  • Story goal (process goal)
  • Conflict (obstacle to goal)
  • Epiphany (how the character develops or changes throughout)
  • One-sentence summary (storyline if they were the main character)
  • One-paragraph summary (beginning, middle and end, if they were the main character)

I found it preferable to put this all on a spreadsheet, that way it is easier to add to it or edit as I go along.

In addition, I like to be able to see my characters, so I use google image to find photos of random people that look similar to who would play my characters in the film version (let’s not get ahead of myself…novel first, screenplay later. Netflix are screaming for good ideas).

So these characters have a name, a face, and even the beginnings of an inner life – suggested by their outer goals, actions and obstacles. Like work colleagues, they are going to become a part of my life for the next few months at least. The more invested I am, the more frequently we interact, the more real and meaningful they will become. With any luck, this will translate to the page and eventually, the reader’s mind.

I have started with 7 main characters, but this is already starting to grow out of necessity. Lots of characters can be confusing for the reader, so it’s simplified as they each belong to one of three groups – there are a couple of floaters, who change as necessary. Anyway, I don’t want to talk to much about the story itself, just the process.

The Beginning’s Conclusion

So, the first three steps are complete. I feel good about that as I did them all in one sitting, but not so good that I want to celebrate, as I have been further than this before and still failed to finish.

The next few steps may be more time consuming, and mentally challenging, so rather than put off writing completely I will alternate between writing this blog about “why I can’t write” and actually writing the bloody thing! I know, I know…genius!!! Thanks, yes I did think of that myself.

It’s currently 11:16 on a beautiful, sunny, Sunday morning. I slept in and skipped my run, but did do my Wim Hof breathing and had a 60 second cold shower. I’ve had no breakfast yet and only one coffee so far, so with my coffee deadline being midday, that is my next port of call. After that, play with the kids, read, watch a film, stuff my face, and maybe…just maybe…write something?

Until next Sunday, Constant Reader, stay safe and well.